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Why LGBT+ month at Lancaster University goes beyond shaping policy

February is LGBT+ History Month - an annual month-long observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history and celebrated by Lancaster University

Since its inception in 1994, LGBT+ History Month has raised awareness of gay rights, their history, lives and experiences. Shockingly, libraries have only been allowed to stock literature or films with gay or lesbian themes since 1988, and it has taken university libraries some time to really embrace the new freedom and reach out to the LGBTQ community.  

Caroline Gibson, faculty librarian for Lancaster University says:

“It started with ‘Decolonising Lancaster’ - an initiative led by academics in our faculty of arts and social sciences - and the student-led campaign, ‘Why is my curriculum white?’ The library became active in supporting these initiatives in early 2019 and momentum has grown since”. 

Readdressing history 

As part of ‘Decolonising Lancaster’ the library established a dedicated fund and has encouraged recommendations for purchase from staff and students to help readdress historical bias in the collections and work towards making them more diverse. Although initial endeavours in this respect focused on decolonising the library, a broader ambition of diversifying the library collections and services became the overall aim and with that came a review of internal practices and processes to help ensure that under-represented groups are recognised and feel included.

Supporting LGBT+ students and staff is part of Lancaster’s work, reaching out to marginalised communities. Faculty librarian at Lancaster University Paul Newnham says:

“It’s really interesting to see how natural groups within the library or within a department can drive rapid transformation like the fast decolonisation of the curriculum in our Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. You don't have to be a manager to talk about this and it doesn't need to come from top down. I'm very keen to support these initiatives and enable anyone who likes to take these issues forward.”

Caroline Gibson adds:

“There’s still much work to do, especially in relation to acquiring and organising our collections. We have to start with the decolonising our minds before we can think about decolonising our practice”.

What's on

To support LGBT+ month, Lancaster University has organised a programme of activities in partnership with the staff and student LGBT+ networks.

One of these was book giveaway and author event with Damian Barr, who read excerpts from his novel ‘You will be safe here’ in which he describes twin narratives of internment during the second Boer war and the experience of a teenager forced to attend a fascist boot camp.

Part of the network at Lancaster University is student Bethany Frost, who is a mature students inclusion representative:

“I’m bi, so I have personal investment in improving LGBT awareness and inclusion across the university and I just really want to be a part supporting different liberation spaces.”

Other universities are also reaching out to the LGBT community during February. The University of Wolverhampton presents 'Pronouns – 5 Top Tips'; while De Montford University in Leicester discusses trans athletes' participation in sport.

“For so long LGBT issues have been left out of the mainstream history and have been left uncovered. It's really important that we actively raise these issues. By having events and displays you really send a signal to make sure that you're visible and educate as many people as possible.”

For inspiring talks and debates on an inclusive future for education, attend Jisc’s immersive virtual event, Digifest 2021, 8-11 March 2021.